Along with Nas, Busta Rhymes, and a few chosen others, Fat Joe belongs to an exclusive cadre of MCs who sustain foundation and commercial relevance. With more than 10 solo outings and a slew of high-charting collaborations, he's delivered for the club and the curb, never losing respect from either of those fickle demographics.
As a result, depending on whom you ask, his albums always suffer for one reason or another. Here, for example, hardcore-rap geeks will applaud the ducat-minded "Valley of Death" but deplore the comparably themed (and truly awful) "If It Ain't About Money" with Trey Songz. In general, street-rap albums are injected with bubblegum so that evil imprints can push big singles through mainstream channels. Fat Joe won with this scheme in 2004, when the iron strings on "Lean Back" had even your grandma flexing. Now that he's gone independent, he should abandon that prescription and simply let it flow.
Joe is one of the last remaining beasts from the East, and as he demonstrates on the DJ Premier ringer "I'm Gone" and "At Last Supremacy" with Busta, he sounds better in his back yard than he does in trying to appease pedestrians with unnecessary Wayne and Jeezy cameos.